Low Velo LincecumTuesday, April 24, 2012
In an effort to better understand the pitcher Tim Lincecum is today, I’ve reviewed one of his best outings from 2009 and compared it to 2012. Check out last week's column on Madison Bumgarner.
Note: Pitch grades are on the 20-80 scale, which is commonly used in scouting, though sometimes as 2-8. I consider an 80 grade to be among the top 3-5 in baseball. A 50 grade is average. A 20 grade is the lowest playable in the big leagues (ex. A pitcher with a 20 grade changeup may forgo throwing the pitch, in large part, during regular season action).
Lincecum’s fastball topped out at 91.9 MPH in his last outing. In 2009, he averaged 93.2 MPH, according to BrooksBaseball.net. He could also reach back and overpower hitters at 95-97 MPH.
His fastball has never had a lot of sink or movement, but he has a good tempo and pretty solid command of it. He’s able to hit the corners and stay away from the middle of the plate. In 2009, he worked hitters up and down with his fastball, keeping them off-balance with velocity and location.
He can’t do that at 88-91 MPH. Hitters had to commit to the high-90s version early, leading to frequently futile swings. Batters can wait on it more now. As such, they’ve started to lay off it, especially up in the zone.
(A number of Mets’ hitters still chased it up in his last start, but that speaks more to how weak the Mets’ lineup is than how good Lincecum’s fastball was.)
"The fastball right now isn't going fast enough to get by guys,” Lincecum said after his start against the Phillies. “So it's almost a [mindwarp] for me, instead of just trusting it and believing that, ‘Hey, my stuff I've got today is gonna get you out regardless.’"
Present Grade: 55
Lincecum’s changeup is the one pitch in his arsenal that has improved since 2009. It was straighter and he would locate it higher in the zone. Because it came in at 10-13 MPH slower than his peak fastball, he still made hitters look foolish.
Now he’s capable of routinely burying the pitch in the dirt for strikeouts. And while it has been within 7-8 MPH of his peak velocity, it has more depth than it did in 2009. It moves very late with excellent tumble. He also throws it with similar arm action and arm speed as his fastball.
"With the changeup, it's always been my go-to pitch [in the big leagues], especially in 2008 when I started going to it almost too heavy,” he said. “[Today], it almost messes me up where I'm thinking, ‘Is he thinking changeup or is he thinking fastball?’"
Present Grade: 75
Eye-poppingly filthy in 2009, Lincecum’s curveball could still be above-average. It used to have ridiculously sharp, late movement. He could throw it over the heart of the plate and still get outs regularly.
Now it’s a bit more of a precision pitch that he surprises hitters with more than he overpowers them. He’s gone from throwing his curve very often early in his career, to mixing it in irregularly in 2011, to relying on it a little more again in 2012. It could be key in his efforts to put away hitters this season.
Present Grade: 55
It wasn’t fair when Lincecum started throwing his slider often in 2009. The pitch added to his changeup, coming in at a similar velocity with more horizontal movement. It was a devastating offering against righties.
Perhaps the reason he’s resolved on throwing it less this season, Lincecum’s slider is now pretty similar to his changeup. It has more vertical movement than his changeup and can be sharp, but it now lacks horizontal movement. And it isn’t as explosive as it once was.
Present Grade: 50
Once a freak, Lincecum has become mortal. The stuff he’s had this season is nowhere near the stuff he once dominated with.
The biggest difference between 2012 Lincecum and Cy Lincecum is that Cy Lincecum could get you out with four pitches, while 2012 Lincecum may only be able to get you out with one.
"Sometimes you can be unsure of yourself going into a game,” he said. “You might be going to other pitches to compensate just because you think you can't get a guy out with that certain pitch. It's all about gaining knowledge but also not forgetting who you are and what got you here."
Lincecum’s days of being an ace are likely over. He’s had below-average fastball velocity this year, after an initial drop last July. And his curveball is no longer elite. If he doesn’t regain some velocity, he may be a mid-rotation starter going forward.
"It's a constant adjustment,” Lincecum explained. “Some days you might be getting away with that high fastball, and some days guys are gonna be sitting on that. Some days your changeup's gonna be your out pitch. And some days your fastball's gonna be your out pitch, just because of the scouting report guys get and tendencies you start to take. That's what makes this game fun. You can't just stay the same. You gotta keep adapting.”